The Boston Red Sox's trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Joel Hanrahan may have signified the team's decision to go with a new closer in 2013. But the trade also created a question of what to do with the demoted Andrew Bailey.
Bailey’s future in Boston looked bright last offseason when he was acquired with Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland A’s in a trade for Josh Reddick and two prospects. Reddick went on to become a 2012 All-Star, while Bailey missed much of the season because of injury and was ineffective when he did pitch.
Bailey appeared in just 19 games last season with the Red Sox, going 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA and six saves. His struggles were emblematic of a team that lost 93 games despite starting the year as highly regarded World Series contenders.
Now that Hanrahan has been brought in as the new Boston closer, though, Bailey’s future has changed.
The arbitration-eligible Bailey made $3.9 million last season and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2015. He is already getting paid like a closer, so how can Boston justify his presence on the roster if he isn't pitching at the end of games?
As things stand, Bailey will be Boston's set-up man in 2013.
According to WEEI’s DJ Bean, Red Sox assistant GM Brian O’Halloran confirmed in a conference call with reporters that manager John Farrell had already made Hanrahan the closer. O’Halloran stated, “I spoke with John earlier, and he has spoken with both Bailey and Hanrahan, so I don’t mind sharing with you that John plans to go into the spring with Hanrahan as the closer.”
WEEI’s Rob Bradford quoted Farrell as being impressed with Bailey’s attitude and approach, which he thinks will help in his transition:
[Bailey] was a pro about it. He understood. He has a strong belief and confidence in himself, which we like. He was a pro about it. He will be in an important role for us late in the game.
Bailey has pitched almost exclusively as a closer, finishing 146 of his 176 appearances during his four-year major league career. His ability to pitch in a different capacity will likely help determine the length of his stay in Boston.
If Hanrahan falters, Bailey represents valuable insurance for the Red Sox. He is a two-time All-Star and won the 2009 Rookie of the Year award as a closer. Boston fans may mistrust him after his disastrous 2012 season, but he flourished in the ninth inning prior to joining the Red Sox.
Bailey posted a combined 2.07 ERA with 75 saves, while striking out a batter per inning, in three seasons with Oakland. His major fault has been an inability to stay healthy, as his rookie season in 2009 represents the only year he has avoided the disabled list.
Bailey could ultimately be re-installed as Boston’s closer in 2014. Hanrahan is one year away from free agency and could be deemed too expensive or old (he will be 32 at the end of next season) to be offered a long-term deal. Financially controlling Bailey until 2015 gives the team valuable leverage.
The Red Sox also have the option of trading Bailey to address other areas of need. With a successful track record of closing games, he could be highly coveted.
However, there should be no rush to trade Bailey. He can contribute to the Red Sox in a non-closer role and should only be dealt if the return is strong enough for Boston.
With Rafael Soriano still available on the free-agent market, Bailey’s current value may be somewhat muted. That could change once the season gets underway or if other teams are hit by injury.
The 2013 Red Sox bullpen appears to be quite deep with Craig Breslow, Alfredo Aceves, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa joining Bailey and Hanrahan. If flame-throwing Daniel Bard can recover from last year’s struggles, trading Bailey could become even easier.
The Red Sox have several options they could pursue with Bailey but should utilize him where they have the most need. Since that need will likely change over time, patience will ensure the team gets the most value from their deposed closer.
Statistics via BaseballReference